SANTA CLARA – Here’s the transcript of Vic Fangio’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers.
You’ve just had a few extra days to prepare for the Saints. Does the Saints offense require extra days? Is it that complex? Are you glad you’ve had extra time for it?
“Well, the Saints offense, as you all know, is operating at a high efficiency right now. They’ve got everything going for them right now. They’ve got a great quarterback who’s got great weapons to throw to. He’s got a great offensive line in front of him. The guy’s only been sacked 24 times in the regular season, and that’s off of 700 times they’ve thrown the ball, dropped back to pass. So, that’s impressive in and of itself, and to top it off, they’ve got a great scheme. They really give you a lot of offense to prepare for. You never quite know what you’re going to get from them and they run the ball. Everybody talks about their passing game and justifiably so, but they run the ball. I think they’re rated fourth in the league in the run. So, it’ll be an all-day sucker for us. We’ve got to come ready to go.”
You mentioned the sack numbers. Is Saints QB Drew Brees part of that, his ability to get rid of the ball to avoid those sacks? Is he a big part?
“That’s definitely part of it. He’s got such a great knowledge of their offense and a feel for where to go with the ball that he can get it out of his hands quicker than a lot of people, but they still do a great job protecting him, too. You’ll see many times where he holds the ball a long time, too.”
You’ve seen that it’s been mentioned that they play in the dome and not as well outside. Is there really that much of a difference when you’re watching them on the film?
“No. And I can remember, I coached with the Saints for nine years and we used to hear that when I was there. And we went up in December one year and played Buffalo when they were in the middle of all their Super Bowl runs and that year we were kind of an average team. I don’t remember what our record was, and we went up and beat them in a snow storm. So, I don’t put any credence in that.”
Vic, you had mentioned the run game. Can you share about RB Darren Sproles and kind of the different dimension he adds to their offense?
“Well, he adds a lot. He’s a special player. It’s almost as if – I can’t believe they got him for the cheap price that they got him for replacing [Former Saints RB] Reggie Bush. I think if it was the NBA, the commissioner might have stepped in and stopped that move. But, he’s a talented player. He’s extremely quick, extremely fast. He’s got a great working knowledge with Brees that goes back to their San Diego days. They worked all offseason together. He’s a weapon. And that’s the most glaring thing when you look at this offense is they have weapons everywhere. It’s hard to say, hey if we stop this guy we’ll win this game, or we’ll play great on defense. They’ve got a lot of guys we’ve got to stop. You’ve got to stop their offense.”
Can you describe sort of the contrast in these two teams? I mean, they’re a high-scoring offense and you’re a top-ranked defense, and sort of an offense that isn’t quite as flashy here.
“I don’t know. What’s there to say about that? We’re obviously two teams that, at this moment in time, are built a little differently. They’re built to score a lot of points. They get into a lot of high-scoring games. We’re not quite built that way. So, it’s definitely a contrast.”
What were the lingering effects of the finish in St. Louis? How did some of the secondary guys take it?
“That game seems so long ago right now. I don’t even know. We’re ready to go for the playoffs. The regular season was the regular season. Now we’re into the playoffs.”
You guys allowed three rushing touchdowns, but all three came in the last two games. How do you account for that? Was there fatigue involved? What’s the explanation?
“I don’t think so. I think it just goes to show you how hard and rare what we had done the first 14 weeks could be. In the last two games, we have a punt blocked, which gives them the ball on the three and they take it in. In this past game, we give up a quarterback scramble, which is actually a passing play and he runs it in from 17 or 18 yards out. And we have a pass interference in the end zone, which puts the ball on the one and they run it in. So, it just goes to show you how rare and unusual what we accomplished the first 14 games is. I think that’s all it means.”
Vic, you talked about how you dialed back your blitzing a little bit based on the personnel you have here. Do you ever see a situation where Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would dial back his blitzing?
“Again, I don’t know, probably not, but I can’t speak for Gregg. I really don’t know Gregg that well. I don’t know.”
Vic, is playoff experience overrated? I mean, there are a lot of first-timers in your locker room compared to 40 something playoff experienced guys on the other side.
“Oh, I think there’s a little something to it, but I’d rather have the best team. OK. Give me a bunch of young players that are more talented than an experienced team without as much talent, I’ll take the young, talented team. I can remember way back when I was with the Saints and [former Saints general manager] Jim Finks, who’s a Hall of Famer as a GM and was in the league his whole life, we were talking about some Super Bowl matchup back in the 80’s. And he says, ah I’m taking this team here because they’re more experienced. I said, go ahead, we’ve got $10 on it. I’m taking this other team because their better even though they’re younger. I won. So, experience helps in any facet of life, but I like talent.”
There were times this year when you guys used LB Patrick Willis against a tight end, a good tight end. Obviously you guys are facing one of the better ones. How big of a challenge is that for Patrick in those times when he’s matched up against TE Jimmy Graham?
“Well, that’s a big challenge no matter who’s covering him. Could be a linebacker, could be a DB, safety, or corner. And he’s a rare, rare guy at tight end. He’s 6’6”, runs very well. He’s caught I think 99 balls in the regular season. So, he’s a big part of their offense, and his size and speed and range and his catching ability is a tough assignment for anybody. But, that’s what it is this time of year. You’re going against great teams, great players. Somebody’s going to have to man up and cover somebody at some point.”
Does he compare a little bit to Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew, who he faced earlier this year?
“A little bit in their size. This guy’s faster. They move this guy around more. He’ll be looking like a receiver a lot of times. So, it’s a little bit more challenging in that area.”
How have teams in general defended them when they’re in regular personnel, but he’s on the field? What do teams generally do?
‘They haven’t defended it very well, but—.”
Defensive-personnel wise though, do you seem teams mostly putting sub-packages out there, or what do they do?
“It’s been a mix. Some teams have taken the approach, hey we’ll play nickel and see how it goes. Some teams have changed it up, stayed in their base and got into nickel. So, I don’t think there’s any one way you can say is the way to stop this team.”
A lot of championship college coaches who have jumped to the NFL have not experienced success and gone back to the college game. What has been the difference for head coach Jim Harbaugh to change that mold in a matter of months?
“Well, I think a couple of things. One, his 15 years, I believe, he played as a player obviously is a help. He had a good feel for the pro game from that perspective. He worked a couple years with the Raiders, so he got it from a coaching perspective. So, I think he came into this position with already a pretty good working knowledge of what the NFL is all about. Albeit, it is different and he’s had to adjust a little bit. And I think we’ve got a staff that he’s put together that has a lot of experience in the NFL.”
Saints head coach Sean Payton seems to almost take pride in how many different formation groups he can come up with, how many different personnel packages he can come up with. Have you faced any lately this season who gives you that many different looks in a game?
“Probably not, and one of the reasons they do it is because they have versatile players. Graham can be a receiver. Sproles can be a receiver. They’ve got versatile guys out there and he’s using them.”
How are your defensive ends going into this game, DT Ray McDonald and DT Justin Smith, their health and are they going to be OK for Saturday?
What have you learned about Justin since the beginning of the season?
“Well, like I’ve said before to the people that have been here, I knew he was a good player. He’s even better than my impression was. And I think what a lot of people forget about Justin is they fall in love with his tenacity, his effort, his toughness, which is all justified, but he’s got talent. He’s a talented player. So, when you combine the intangibles that we spoke about with his talent, we get what we see this year.”
Same way with LB Aldon Smith, has he exceeded your expectations?
“I don’t know that he’s totally exceeded them. It’s kind of worked out the way I’d hoped for. Now what you hoped for isn’t always what you get, but we had hoped that he would be a significant contributor in our pass rush and our sub-packages because making the transition from defensive lineman to outside linebacker is hard. Then you throw in the no offseason. My hope was that he would be a significant contributor to our sub-packages as a pass-rusher, and he’s done that.”
What do you think makes the Saints such a better team on turf than on grass?
“I don’t know that answer. I don’t know that that’s really true. But, obviously the home field is always a good advantage, right? So, and they play eight of those there.”